Brewer a willing and able replacement for Deng

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Brewer a willing and able replacement for Deng

Whether its filling in for Rip Hamilton at shooting guard, being the de facto backup point guard when Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were simultaneously sidelined or his current role, starting at small forward in place of the injured Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer is ready.

Thibs prepares you by telling you to come in with the early group and learn every position, Brewer, who started at small forward Monday and will start again Wednesday, when the Bulls host the Central Division rival Pacers, said following the teams morning shootaround. He tried to throw me in at the point guard position a few times, Rips been out a few times and now, Lus out, so youve got to be ready whenever your name is called and thats what Ive been trying to do all season long.

However, while Thibodeau is certainly confident in Brewers abilities, the Bulls head coach admitted that he loves having the versatile swingman come off the bench, as the second-generation NBA player has great chemistry with the fellow members of the Bench Mob, the teams second unit.

Well see. Well see how it goes, said Thibodeau, when asked if Brewer would be a permanent starter during Dengs absence. What Ronnie has shown, whether hes starting for Rip or starting for Luol and hes started a number of games in this league is that he can handle starting. He handles coming off the bench. I thought last year him coming off the bench was a great asset. I value greatly what a guy like that can bring coming off the bench, so in some ways, I do miss what he brings coming off the bench. But I also like what he does as a starter, so its a tribute to him and his versatility.

Brewer explained the difference mentality required to start a contest.

Coming off the bench, you get to watch and see the flow of the game, and the pace and analyze things. As a starter, youve got to be ready to go from the tip, so its a little different, but at the same time, youve got to be ready to play, he said. I feel like I can play off those other guys. D-Rose has so much attention, Luol got a lot of attention when he was out there, learning to play off Rip, knowing Booz playing with him my whole career, Im able to cut on the baseline and Joakims such a great passer, so its easy to fit in with the starters and I played all last year with the Bench Mob, so I was able to learn all their strengths and weaknesses, as well.

Hamilton, the teams lone new starter this season, has fit like a glove, Boozer predicted early on in his new teammates tenure. Brewer, who started at shooting guard when Hamilton was out with a groin injury, explained that hes quickly adjusting to the veteran shooting guards game.

Watching him, it allows me to learn a lot being able to move without the basketball and get your shot off a little quicker and its making the game a lot easier. Hes a seasoned vet and youve got to be like a sponge, and learn as much as possible from him. He draws so much attention coming off double screens, single screens. Guys opposing defenders have got to stunt to him, double to him and hes such a great player, hes making a lot of easy plays for other people and getting them involved, so hes making the offense flow a lot smoother, he said. It shows the work he puts in because he sat out so many games, then he comes back, he fits right in. Hes shooting the ball phenomenally, hes dishing the ball and guys every practice, every game are learning to jell a little bit better with him.

While playing against starting shooting guards in the NBA is no piece of cake, Brewer also faces a new challenge in matching up with small forwards, one of the leagues most high-profile positions, featuring the likes reigning scoring champ Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, the latter two normally the primary responsibility of Deng, one of the top perimeter defenders in the game hell face on the Bulls upcoming road trip.

Its fairly the same position, just a little bit bigger guys. Sometimes the twos start lower, the threes start higher, vice versa. Working with Thibs and the early group, Ive been able to learn the plays at both positions. Its not going to be any easier playing the three than it is the two. High-caliber players every night that youre going to face, so youve got to be ready for the test, said Brewer. Well see. Im going to have to do what Ive been trying to do since Ive been with the Bulls and thats hustle on both ends of the court, run the floor, be a tougher defender. Tonight, we have a tough matchup, trying to guard Pacers small forward Danny Granger. These upcoming games, we have a lot of tough guys that were going to face, so Ive just got to come in there, try to do my part and be an energy spark for this team.

Its going to be tough. Whenever you have a guy of Lus caliber out hes one of our leaders vocally and by his playhes definitely going to be missed. A lot of different guys are going to have to step up and bring something different if its on offense, defense, assists because he does a lot of things for this team, so somebodys going to have to step up, he continued. We have a lot of guys on this team who can step up and make plays on either offense or defense. When we had D-Rose out, we had C.J. Watson come in and John Lucas III and Mike James. When C.J. was out, John Lucas came in there and stepped in. Weve got a lot of guys who come in and make plays. Thats what you expect from a deep team and weve got a lot of depth on this team.

Although Brewers skill set arent an identical match to Dengs, the players do have a lot in common. Both are versatile, willing passers, aggressive slashers, move well without the ball and defend at a high level. But like Deng, Brewer is also a much-improved shooter, something the modest wing refuses to toot his own horn about.

It goes back to my teammates. D-Rose makes a lot of plays and has enough confidence in me to find me when Im open and Ive got to reward him by knocking down the shot. He gets so much attention, it makes the game a lot easier for him, so Ive got to continue to work hard, continue to work with the coaches and in the game, try to knock down as many shots as possible.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it's probably a little too late in the season for that, they'll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They'll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They'll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

"The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We're going to have to match that. We're going to have to come out and play physical basketball."

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it's just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

"I did, actually," said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he's scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside's tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg — although one can imagine how animated he must've been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

"It is what it is," Hoiberg said. "You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there's nothing you can do about that. You've got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute."

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn't seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls' success over LeBron James' Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

"Against big teams, we play much better," Mirotic said. "I don't know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It's on us. We just have to prove it."

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who've just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

"Sure, we understand," Mirotic said. "We've been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy."